On May 14th, 2018, we left Calgary to spend a month in Spain. We arrived in Malaga on the 15th and plan to spend a month travelling around Andalusia province and dip our toes into a bit of Portugal.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The Andalusia region is located in the south west area of Spain and is made up of seven provinces. Each one named for its capital city: Cadiz, Cordoba, Jaen, Huelva, Almeria, Malaga, Granada and Seville. Not sure that we will visit each province, but we will certainly see most of this region.
The most unique feature of this region is the remnants of its Moorish past. The Moors habited this area for over eight centuries starting in the year 710 and one still sees marks of their influence today.
One of their main legacies is the Moorish influence of the alcazabas (citadels), fortalezas (fortresses) and castillos(castles) that can still be seen today. Some of them are in ruins, but some have been beautifully preserved, such as the Alhambra which we will be visiting while in Granada.
Prior to the Moors occupation, the Romans had laid out irrigation systems which had fallen into disuse, after their departure at the end of the 4th century. These were recovered and extended by the Moors who brought water into their buildings through a complex network of wells and channels, fountains and pools. The water was not only for domestic purposes, it was used in public squares, patios and private gardens, and also for their hammans. Some hammans still exist in this region, but having had the experience in Morocco, not something I wish to repeat any time soon!
At the end of the 15th century, the Christians regained control of this area and the Moors were either killed or banished and returned to Morocco. The Moors left behind many mosques, and the Christians either destroyed them or converted them to Christian churches adding crosses to the tops of minarets, bells in the towers, altars replacing the “mihrab” (a niche in the mosque wall which indicates the direction of Mecca, which is the way a Muslim faces when praying). In some instances if the mosque could not be converted, they actually built churches inside the mosques. We will look forward to seeing this in Sevilla.
The political history of Spain, including Andalusia, is complex. At one time in history, even the French, under Napoleon’s rule, controlled this area. Then the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 which was a coup d’état of nationalists led by General Francisco Franco, who was supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Franco’s eventual victory established him as Europe’s longest ruling dictator until his death in 1975. Democracy was restored under the symbolic monarchy of King Juan Carlos II. After Franco’s rule, Spain became involved with the European Union and their standard of living greatly improved.
During the financial crisis, Spain’s unemployment hit a high of 26%. Having said this, the current unemployment rate remains above 18 percent and is still very high for younger workers. After three decades of running a trade deficit the country attained a trade surplus in 2013. In 2017, Spain’s economy had returned to its pre-crisis size.
It is said that Expo ‘92 in Sevilla helped the fortunes of the Andalusia region. Communication improvements, new motorways, high speed trains and new airports all aided the region.
Thought we did quite well on our first afternoon here in Malaga, which we spent getting acquainted with our neighbourhood. Our hotel is located in the old town in a pedestrian area. We thought the area was very quiet in the afternoon as very few people/tourists in the streets. When we went out for dinner, as is the custom in Europe, the local families were out with their children and elderly. This is always so nice to see. Actually made it to 9 pm, however awake at 4:30 am due to jet lag!
On our first full day in Malaga, we head out about 9 in the morning and head towards the port. This area has been totally refurbished in the last few years and beautiful walkways along the port. Along side are ferry and cruise ship terminals along with a working port. There is also a Centre Pompidou along the port and is an offshoot of the Paris Pompidou centre. May take this in when we return to Malaga. Not many people out. Took in the local market as well. We are out for a couple of hours, get back to our hotel for a short rest before we head out for a “walking tour” with a local guide.
Last year we opted to use “Global Greeters” where we arranged for one on one tours with locals. Unfortunately this organization has not found its’ way to Spain as of yet. The “free walking tours” that we have opted for on this trip, are like many throughout Europe. Many people take advantage of these and at the end of your tour, you pay what you feel the tour was worth. The companies who run these free tours also run paid tours and of course this is what they are promoting. A good way to learn about the city and usually the information is worthwhile.
Headed out on our walking tour our second day in Malaga. The guide Nahuel is a young Malagueno and is very knowledgeable about his city and its’ history. Our tour last 2 1/2 hours and was a great way to get a feel of the city. First of all he recaps the history of Spain and the Andalusia region. A diverse group of travellers on this tour from all over the globe.
Lots of traditions in this area with the most important being Semana Santa (the religious week working up to Easter). Each night during this period, cofradias (brotherhoods) bear holy images for several hours through the City. In Malaga alone, there are 44 brotherhoods, so many processions each night in different parts of the City. The holy image of Jesus Christ is carried on a gold altar and Mary is carried on a silver altar through the streets. It is an honour to be in a cofradias and men wait years to be part of one. The only way to become a brother is through family connections. In other words, one usually has to wait till your uncle, father or grandfather pass away. We entered a building where the altars were kept and we were amazed by the size. The altars are carried by up to 150 brothers with the most senior leading the procession. Throughout the year the brotherhoods raise money to enhance and refurbish their altars. Other participants in these processions wear nazareno (penitential robe). This garment consists of a tunic and a capirote (a hood with conical tip) used to conceal the face of the wearer. All brotherhoods have their own symbols and colours. I would think that this is really something to see. Our guide tells us that family members return to Malaga to experience this holy week, as do hundreds of other Spaniards and tourists.
Another tradition happening in late June/July is selling of “biznaga”. These are fragrant flowers that are sold in the streets and are the symbol of Malaga. Biznagas are handmade, using jasmine and the stalk of a nerdo, a kind of thistle and then they are stuck into a prickly pear for sale by Biznaguaro’s, men who wear traditional dress. We are told that biznagas are a natural mosquito repellent.
Many narrow winding streets and alleys in the old quarter of Malaga. We are told that the narrow streets were built to provide shade from the hot sun in the summer and relief from winds. It is said that one could lose his enemies in the winding streets.
Our next stop is the Catedral de Malaga which took over 200 years to be erected, starting in 1528 on the site of a former mosque. It is built in a renaissance, gothic and baroque style; quite interesting. Worked stopped in 1782, as it was decided the project was too expensive. So, to this day the Cathedral stands incomplete and the Malaguenos have no intention on finishing it, they like it the way it is. The official name of the Cathedral is Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación (Our Lady of Incarnation) but the locals call it “La Manquita” (the one armed lady) as one of the two bell towers was left incomplete. Our guide made us repeat the official name of the cathedral many times, his type of humour I suppose. We did not visit the interior of the cathedral on the tour, but when we return to Malaga it is definitely on our “must see”.
Next we arrive at the Teatro Echegaray, another beautiful architectural building. Our guide asks us what each nationality says when they wish an actor luck before a performance. The North Americans say “break a leg”, the Germans say “break your leg and neck” (refers to all the bowing they will have to do after a great performance) and our guide tells us that here in Malaga they say “Mucho Merda”. Well, I don’t think I need to translate, but hopefully the reader understands the meaning. Nahuel goes on to tell us that in olden times, theatre goers would take their horse and buggies to the theatre. If the play was a long and wonderful performance, they would stay till the end. The horses having waited for such a long time, of course have to “poop” and they would “poop” a lot if the performance was successful! He also told us that Antonio Banderas got his acting start at this theatre. He commented that most thought that Banderas wasn’t the worlds’ best actor, but he returns often to Malaga and is well loved here.
We stop at the famous “El Pimpi Winery”. We get a chance to go in and see pictures on the walls of all the famous people that have passed through the doors. El Pimpi is situated inside an old 18th century Málaga mansion house and is one of the longest-standing bodega bars in Málaga. We might have to return here as well.
Next stop is the base of the Alcazaba, where one finds ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. This palace dates back to the 11th century Moorish period. We will visit this on our return.
The end of our tour is is one of the cities square near the building where Picasso was born. He spent the first 10 years of his life in Malaga. There is a Picasso museum here and it is on our list of things to see.
A little cool in the evenings, but lovely mild temperatures during the day.
Robin and I have always thought it is very important to attempt to speak the language of the country one is visiting. Many years ago we both took spanish classes, Robin having taken a few more than me. I have a tendency to pronounce spanish words in French vs. Spanish. Having said this, I can be understood. We stopped into a small coffee/tea shop to get some tea to bring back to our hotel and the young lady serving us was impressed with Robin’s spanish. She asked where we were from and asked if we liked Spain. Think she misunderstood Robin to say that we did not like Spain and after seeing the horrified look on her face, he quickly reiterated that we indeed did like Spain. A laugh all around!
Many tapas bars everywhere and one is overwhelmed by the choice. After our tour we decide to stop at one, and low and behold, our guide is there with his family….had to think it would be a good one, and it is. When you stop at a bar for a drink you are always served free tapas (peanuts, green olives or chips).
I am indulging in the odd glass of wine. Most of you know that I have not been partaking in alcohol since I started my new medication. I don’t seem to be able to tolerate red wine, but white and sparkling seems fine. So….what the heck!
Although our stay in Malaga was short, we are coming back for three nights near the end of trip and that time hope to visit the sites a little more.